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3. Background

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3.1 Historical context

There has always been creed diversity in Ontario.[11] Ontario laws have long recognized ideals of religious freedom,[12] even if interpreting and applying these in the past in selective and discriminatory ways that did not protect, or seek to protect, religious equality.[13]

Historians note that for much of Ontario’s and Canada’s history “to be a (proper) Canadian one had to be a (proper) Christian.”[14] People belonging to minority creed communities faced significant, and in some cases severe, persecution and discrimination.

Among the most egregious historical examples of legally permitted discrimination based on creed and race were the sustained Canadian government efforts to assimilate Indigenous[15] peoples over the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly following the introduction of the Indian Act in 1876.[16]

“Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system.”  – Jose R. Martinez Cobo[17]

Suppressing and outlawing Indigenous spiritual practices and traditions was an integral part of a broader colonial project to “Christianize and civilize” Indigenous peoples. The effects of policies like the forced residential schooling of over 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis children across the country, including in many places in Ontario,[18] are still being felt today.[19]

“The happiest future for the Indian race is absorption into the general population, and this is the object and policy of our government…”

I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone…Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.” – Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs (1913-1932). [20]

Differences between Christian denominations (mainly Protestants and Catholics) was another main source of tension and discrimination among people in Ontario in the past. Christian minorities in Ontario such as Mennonites, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Hutterites, Eastern Orthodox and Evangelicals often faced more intense creed-based prejudice and discrimination because others saw these beliefs as heretical. This was sometimes made worse because of intersecting ethnic and race-based prejudice and discrimination.[21]

Jewish Canadians have long been subjected to legalized forms of antisemitic discrimination.[22] "None is too many" was the response of a high-level Canadian government official when asked how many Jewish people should be accepted as immigrants, at the time of the Nazi persecution of Jewish people.[23] Signs posted along Toronto beaches stated “No Dogs or Jews Allowed.” Many hotels and resorts had policies prohibiting Jewish people as guests.[24] There were restrictions on where Jewish people could live or buy property. In 1951, a Jewish man challenged a restrictive covenant preventing property from being sold to anyone of “the Jewish, Hebrew, Semitic, Negro or coloured race or blood.” The Supreme Court of Canada declared the covenant void because, among other reasons, it was unclear.[25]

Religious prejudice, racism and xenophobia in Ontario also involved persecution and discrimination against Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and other non-conforming creed groups, including atheists and agnostics. A glimpse into this history of creed-based discrimination is provided in the Human rights and creed research and consultation report.

Religion has been an inspiring force for good in the lives of many Ontarians, contributing significantly to building the Canadian social and institutional fabric.[26] At times it has also been used to limit and violate people’s human rights.[27]

The use of religious claims to justify curtailing and violating people’s rights, including the rights of women, LGBTQ and other minority and racialized communities, has long been recognized and addressed in international human rights fora.[28] For example, in Canada, so-called “sodomy laws” criminalizing “homosexual acts” and carrying sentences up to death were on the law books until 1969.[29] Such laws and the attitudes surrounding them were significantly shaped by appeals to particular understandings of Christianity.[30]

Since the 1960s, Ontario public policy and law has increasingly embraced values of diversity, equality and non-discrimination. A new commitment to the ideal of state neutrality in religious matters has emerged alongside these values, and this has steadily eroded Christian historical privileges in public and state institutional life. However, new (and in some cases old) forms of discrimination and prejudice based on creed continue to persist, and in some cases are growing.

3.2 Faithism, prejudice and stereotyping based on creed

“Faithism” often underlies negative treatment and discrimination directed towards people based on creed. Faithism includes any ideology that ascribes to people values, beliefs and behaviours, and constructs people as fundamentally different and unequal – deserving or undeserving of respect and dignity – based on their religion or belief. [31] Faithism creates and reproduces a consistent, distorted, negative and stereotypical view of individuals and groups based on their creed, faith, beliefs or associated characteristics, and ignores or suppresses contrary evidence (including of intra-group diversity, shared humanity and redeeming positive qualities).

Examples of faithism are:

  • Presuming that all people of religious faith are backward or closed-minded, or do not respect human diversity
  • Labelling or treating all people of the Islamic faith as terrorists, or potential terrorists.

Faithism differs from simple prejudice in that it operates at several levels, including individual, institutional, cultural and societal. As an ideology, it is usually organized and systemic, and often justifies a dominant group exercising power over a minority group. It can include both individual and institutional practices that dehumanize and undermine the dignity of persons of a particular faith or belief.

“Faithism,” in its more individual form, includes prejudicial[32] attitudes and perspectives, based on stereotypes, that devalue and denigrate people who follow beliefs and ways of life that differ from what may be considered “normal” or “acceptable.”

Critically engaging with or negatively evaluating a person’s belief is not “faithist” in and of itself. It is only so when this begins to take on an ideological form that distorts and draws on and reproduces stereotypes about groups based on their creed, faith, beliefs, or associated characteristics. This is often linked to practices of domination and dehumanization.

Stereotyping happens when generalizations are made about individuals based on assumptions about qualities and characteristics of the group they belong to.

“Stereotyping, like prejudice, is a disadvantaging attitude, but one that attributes characteristics to members of a group regardless of their actual capacities.”  – Supreme Court of Canada[33]

It is often based on misconceptions, incomplete information and/or false generalizations. Stereotyping can also often be the result of subtle unconscious beliefs, biases and prejudices.[34] Stereotypes can be damaging in many ways. For example, acting on them results in unequal treatment. Also, the people being stereotyped may internalize them and believe or accept them.

Faithism and creed discrimination are often linked to stereotypes based on creed. During the OHRC consultation, people of religious faith spoke about the growth of anti-religious prejudice in Ontario society directed against people of religious faith in general.[35] At times, this prejudice was based on stereotypes about "religious people" or followers of a particular creed. Examples of these stereotypes were that people are backward, close-minded, irrational, opposed to or incapable of critical, independent thought, superstitious, unintelligent, unenlightened, tribal, uncivilized, submissive, conformist, anti-egalitarian, sexist, homophobic, and/or potentially violent and subversive of public order.[36] Anti-religious stereotyping and prejudice have also drawn on race-related stereotypes and various forms of racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and Islamophobia (as discussed in section 3.3).

During the consultation, people without religious faith, or affiliated with lesser known creed communities, also spoke of being stigmatized at times based on stereotypes, such as being immoral, deviant, untrustworthy, bizarre and/or malevolent.

Example: People who identified as Raelians were refused use of a local pub to host a “mini-lecture” event. When the pub manager learned that the group’s members had distributed over 500 flyers to promote the event, he became concerned that the event would disrupt business on a Saturday night, and cancelled their reservation, making derogatory comments about Raelians in the process. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) found that the pub manager’s statement that the pub did not want to be associated with their “cult” was inappropriate and discriminatory.[37]

Where negative attitudes and stereotypes based on creed are acted on in a Code social area, resulting in discrimination, they will contravene the Code. Creed stereotyping can also lead to creed harassment when acted upon or communicated in a social area governed by the Code, such as in employment, housing, services, contracts, unions or associations.

Faithism can also take on less obvious and more systemic forms which can be “hidden” to the people who don’t experience it. Systemic faithism refers to the ways cultural and societal norms, structures and institutions may directly or indirectly, consciously or unwittingly, promote, sustain or entrench differential advantage or disadvantage for individuals and groups based on their religion or belief. [38] Systemic faithism may appear neutral on its surface, but have an “adverse effect” or exclusionary impact on people belonging to particular communities of belief.

Example: The standard work week and statutory holiday calendar in Ontario is organized around the Christian Sabbath and high holy days (Christmas and Easter). While this structure is understandable given Canada's history and demographics, it may adversely affect non-Christians, some of whom may therefore need to seek out special accommodations to observe their own faith holy days. 

In some cases, systemic faithism can result from the ways past religious privileges and ways of doing things from the “Christian Canada” era (1841 – 1960) continue to inadvertently shape contemporary institutional norms, practices and arrangements.[39] It may also result from the adoption of viewpoints and institutional practices that seek to shut out any and all expressions of religion from public life.

Example: An employer prohibits its staff from referring to "Christmas" or any other religious holiday in its internal communications and staff meetings because it believes that workplaces should be “secular.”[40]

Not all forms of faithism contravene the law. An example might be where people hold general cultural or religious prejudices and biases but do not act on these in a Code-governed social area. There may also be legal exemptions and defences that protect or justify a particular institutional arrangement that is unequal on its face.

Sometimes, institutional arrangements that reflect the historical dominance of one faith group may be more or less benign and non-discriminatory, depending on the circumstances.[41]  For example, many Ontario hospitals have a Christian religious origin or affiliation, which reflects the key role and contribution of Christian religious organizations historically in providing social and healthcare services to Ontarians.

Systemic faithism may be discriminatory under the Code; for example, where it results in “systemic discrimination” or "adverse effect" discrimination (see sections 7.8 and 7.9).

The OHRC's research and consultation findings showed that the more a community's creed belief or practice was perceived to differ from mainstream ways of life and understanding (including appropriate ways to be religious), the more likely it was to be frowned on, stigmatized and rejected, and considered unworthy of inclusion and accommodation in society.[42]

3.3 Racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and Islamophobia

The interconnection between religion, race and ethnicity for many creed communities has exposed many religious minorities in Ontario to intersecting forms of prejudice, racism[43], xenophobia and discrimination and harassment based on race, creed, ethnic origin, place of origin and ancestry.

As Ontario’s original occupants, Indigenous peoples have long faced intersectional forms of discrimination and prejudice targeting them not only as distinct “Peoples” but also as members of so-called "inferior races" and as practitioners of spiritual traditions deemed “alien” and “uncivilized” by European settlers. Indigenous peoples continue to face many challenges accessing and receiving appropriate creed accommodations, for a variety of reasons, sometimes inadvertently due to a lack of cultural competence and understanding, and/or at other times because of more overt or hidden anti-Aboriginal racism.

Example: High school students of Indigenous descent in a town with a large Indigenous population experience more frequent and severe forms of school discipline and punishment up to expulsion. Administrators forgo the usual progressive discipline measures. Instead, they respond harshly and immediately to misconduct, based in part on stereotypes about Indigenous culture and spirituality as not responding well to "reason," and other racist myths that only punitive forms of punishment are effective.

Sometimes, religious differences may themselves become "racialized"[44] in ways that not only reflect but also shape how "races" are constructed.

"Race is not an objective biological fact but rather social and political constructions which establish and perpetuate hierarchies of power."  – Historian Lucy Salyer[45]

Religious differences are “racialized” when they are (overtly or covertly) linked to or associated with racial differences.[46]

Example: A recent body of social scientific literature identifies and examines the emergence, in post-9/11 racist discourse and practice, of a new "brown race" associated with the “the Muslim terrorist.” While the racialization of Islam as a religion is not new,[47] what is new is how this category is marked not only by skin colour but also significantly by various religious signifiers (e.g. beard, female head covering, etc.) associated with persons with ancestry in lands implicated in the current “War on Terror” stretching from South, Central and Southeast Asia to the Middle and Near East, North and East Africa.[48]

Religious differences may also be racialized when they are:

  • Naturalized: treated as fixed and unchanging (i.e. unaffected by history or society), usually in ways making religious groupings permanently "foreign" or "other"
  • Ascribed to people based on outward signs or appearances (e.g. perceived markers of religion, ethnicity, race, place of origin, ancestry, colour, citizenship, national origin, language or culture, including dress or comportment)
  • Homogenized: viewed as uniformly shared by all members of a faith tradition without internal differences in understanding, interpretation or behaviour
  • Presumed to be the sole or primary determinant of a person’s thinking and behaviour.

Example: A psychologist speaks about the "Jewish personality" and explains contemporary social behaviour based on presumed and attributed psychological characteristics allegedly shared by all Jewish people.

Like older forms of racism based on biology, newer cultural and religious forms of racism ascribe views and behaviours to people based on their perceived group affiliation.[49] This effectively obscures and overlooks internal differences within religious groups, as well as the multiple and varied motivations, identities, practices and understandings of religious adherents.

Antisemitism is a prime example of how religion can be racialized, evolving from religious bigotry (anti-Judaism) to racist bigotry and hatred (antisemitism).[50] Like all forms of racism, antisemitism continues to evolve in multiple and new directions today in ways that no longer necessarily rely on overt references to blood, race, ethnicity or nation.[51] This policy uses the term “antisemitism” (versus “Anti-Semitism”) precisely because it can encompass such newer forms of hostility towards Jews or Judaeophobia that may not depend on notions of Jewish people as a “Semitic race,” as the older term (Anti-Semitism) implies.[52]

The Canadian Race Relations Foundation (2013) defines antisemitism to include:

[l]atent or overt hostility or hatred directed towards, or discrimination against individual Jews or the Jewish people for reasons connected to their religion, ethnicity, and their cultural, historical, intellectual and religious heritage.[53]

Antisemitism can take many forms, ranging from individual acts of discrimination, physical violence, vandalism and hatred, to more organized and systematic efforts to destroy entire communities and genocide.[54] This longstanding form of creed-based prejudice and discrimination continues in Ontario today.[55]

Example: An employer makes stereotypical antisemitic remarks about a Jewish employee during a staff meeting. He suggests that the man was hired because the employer knew he would be good at "counting money," and "saving pennies and dimes" for the company.

A significant contemporary form of racism and religious intolerance in Ontario is “Islamophobia.”[56] Islamophobia includes racism, stereotypes, prejudice, fear or acts of hostility directed towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general.[57] In addition to individual acts of intolerance and racial profiling (see section 7.5), Islamophobia can lead to viewing and treating Muslims as a greater security threat on an institutional, systemic and societal level.[58] One-sided, sweeping, negative portrayals of Muslim people or Islam in general play a key role in normalizing and reproducing contemporary forms of Islamophobia.[59] These may result in Muslims being treated unequally, evaluated negatively, and being excluded from positions, rights and opportunities in society and its institutions.

The (1997) British Runnymede Trust Report, Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, is most widely credited with giving the term prominence and profile in public policy and discussion. The report defines Islamophobia as “the dread, hatred and hostility towards Islam and Muslims perpetuated by a series of closed views that imply and attribute negative and derogatory stereotypes and beliefs to Muslims.” These “closed views” include:

  • Seeing Islam “as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change”
  • Seeing Islam “as separate and 'other” without “values in common with other cultures,” being neither affected by them nor having any influence on them
  • Seeing Islam as “inferior to the West,”…“as barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist”
  • Seeing Islam “as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a 'clash of civilisations'”
  • Seeing Islam “as a political ideology...used for political or military advantage”
  • “Reject[ing] out of hand” criticisms made of the West by Islam
  • Using “hostility towards justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society”
  • Seeing anti-Muslim hostility “as natural or normal.”

Anti-Muslim discrimination is a leading form of contemporary creed-based discrimination in Ontario.[60] Stereotypes of Muslims as a threat to Canadian security and Canadian values and ways of life have been particularly pronounced, as have various forms of racial profiling.[61] Because of this animosity, visible minority community members are sometimes broadly targeted based on outward appearances, and, in some cases, “perceived” associations with Islam (e.g. Arabs and South Asians).

One of the first hate crimes following 9/11 involved the fire-bombing of a Hindu temple in Hamilton, which the perpetrator mistook for a mosque. There are also numerous other instances involving members of the Sikh faith or non-Muslim individuals of Arab or South or West Asian background, who have been victimized as perceived “Muslims” owing to their outward appearance, language and visibility.[62]

With both Islamophobia and antisemitism, a common tactic is to assign collective guilt and blame to all members of the religion when individuals or sub-groups (including state or non-state actors) commit objectionable or heinous acts.

Members of the Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist faiths often face prejudice and discrimination based on a combination of racism, faithism and xenophobia.

Example: A human rights tribunal found that a turban-wearing Sikh man was discriminated against when he was denied entry to a bar because, according to the doorman, the bar “had an image to maintain” and could not have “too many brown people in.” [63]

Generally, the more "visible" and "different" ethnic minorities and their faith practices are perceived to be, the more likely they are to come under public scrutiny and censure.

Defining xenophobia
Xenophobia describes “attitudes, prejudices and behavior that reject, exclude and often vilify persons, based on the perception that they are outsiders or foreigners to the community, society or national identity.”[64]

During the OHRC consultations, people often found it hard to clearly identify how creed factored into their discriminatory treatment, other than contributing in a more general way to their perceived ethnic and racial "otherness" and non-belonging. The OHRC's Human rights and creed research and consultation report explores further how xenophobic and racist sentiments, in some cases linked to "multicultural backlash," may shape current forms of discrimination and prejudice based on creed.

[11]This diversity preceded large-scale immigration to Canada, and was characterized by the diverse spiritual traditions of the varying Indigenous communities living in Ontario for millennia before European settlement. The main forms of religious diversity among early European settlers overwhelmingly involved variations of Christianity. Jewish people have been present in Ontario since the 1700s. Statistical data on religion since the late 1800s also reveals that Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, even if not always counted, have also all been present in Canadian society at least since the first census. See Beaman, L. and Beyer, P. (Eds). (2008). Religion and Diversity in Canada. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers. See also Bromberg, A. (2012). On religious accommodation and discrimination in the experience of Jewish communities in Ontario. Canadian Diversity, 9(3), 61-63.

[12] In its decision in Samur v. City of Quebec and Attorney General, for instance, the Supreme Court traced the first expression of religious freedom in Canadian law to the 1763 Treaty of Paris, which, while bringing New France under the control of the British Crown (and by default the Anglican Church of England), simultaneously “grant[ed] the liberty of the Catholick [sic] religion to the inhabitants of Canada”: [1953] 2 S.C.R. 299 at 357. See Bhabha, F. (2012). From whence to where and what not to wear: Refining the conception of religious freedom. Paper presented at the Ontario Human Rights Commission/ York University Legal Workshop on Human rights, creed and freedom of religion. Osgoode Hall, York University. March 29-30, 2012.

[13] See Human rights and creed research and consultation report for more on the history of how religious diversity has been managed and governed through Canadian law and government policy.

[14] “That is, mainstream Protestant, or, to a lesser degree, Roman Catholic”. Seljak, D. (2012). Protecting religious freedom in a multicultural Canada. Canadian Diversity, 9(3), p.9. Religious studies scholar Peter Beyer (2008, p.14) further describes the cultural-religious norm for much of Canada’s history: “There were the white, European, Christian and civilized peoples, some of who were admittedly ‘more equal than others’; then there were the unalterable ‘others’ who had to be kept apart or, to the extent deemed possible, ‘civilized’”. Beyer, P. (2008). From far and wide: Canadian religious and cultural diversity in global/local context. In Beaman, L. & Beyer, P. (Eds.). Religion and Diversity in Canada (pp. 9-39). Boston: Brill Academic Publishers.

[15] This policy uses “Indigenous” as an inclusive term to encompass all Indigenous peoples and identities, including status, non-status, Indian, Aboriginal, Native, First Nation, Métis and Inuit. It acknowledges a preference of Indigenous peoples to name themselves in keeping with Article 33(1) of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“Indigenous peoples have the right to determine their own identity or membership in accordance with their customs and traditions […]”). The term does not exclude other self-identified terms, nor deny or prevent the recognition of “aboriginal and treaty rights” under the Canadian Constitution. Other terms are used in some places throughout this policy (e.g. First Nation, Métis or Inuit) when referring to a more specific sub-grouping of Indigenous peoples. Other terms such as Aboriginal or Indian may also be used where quoted in a citation from another source.

[16] Summarizing the key impact and intent of the Indian Act of 1876, Beyer (2008, supra note 14), notes:

By the end of the 19th century, Canadian governments were pursuing a concerted policy whose aim was to assimilate Aboriginal people completely, to dissolve their separate identities both culturally and religiously. The Indian Act of 1876 was the corner stone and provided the blueprint for this policy. It effectively made Aboriginal people wards of the state, proscribed their religious practices, suppressed their distinct and highly varied forms of social and political organization, and attempted to socialize their children in residential schools run by Christian churches and designed to eliminate all distinct aboriginal cultural features, including language (p. 14).

[17] Jose R. Martinez Cobo, United Nations Special Rapporteur of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, and later, Special Rapporteur on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations, in his Study on the Problem of Discrimination against Indigenous Populations, launched in 1972 and completed in 1986; UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1986/7 at para. 379; also available as a United Nations sales publication (U.N. Sales No. E.86.XIV.3). Note, however, that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) does not define Indigenous to allow for Indigenous peoples to name and describe themselves. This is in part in recognition of the history of Indigenous peoples having suffered from having definitions imposed by others (as noted by the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, Ms. Erica-Irene Daes, In UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/AC.4/1995/3, p. 4; cited on p.6 (fn 40) in International Law Association. (2010). Interim Conference Report, The Hague Conference (2010) – Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Retrieved June 22, 2015 from

Nonetheless, in the 1980s, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations, José Martínez Cobo, developed the cited working definition for use with the Working Group of Indigenous Populations. It remains one of the most cited descriptions of the concept of indigenous. Several further key criteria, short of an official definition, have since been “advanced within several different international fora, most recently in the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues…[which further identified] the following characteristics:

  • Self-identification: self-identification as both indigenous and as a people;
  • Historical continuity: common ancestry and historical continuity with pre-colonial and/or presettler societies;
  • Special relationship with ancestral lands: having a strong and special link with the territories occupied by their ancestors before colonial domination and surrounding natural resources.
    Such a link will often form the basis of the cultural distinctiveness of indigenous peoples;
  • Distinctiveness: having distinct social, economic or political systems; having distinct language, culture, beliefs and customary law;
  • Non-dominance: forming non-dominant groups within the current society;
  • Perpetuation: perseverance to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments, social and legal systems and culture as distinct peoples and communities” (International Law Association, ibid., pp. 7-8 citing UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Fact Sheet, 21 October 2007).

For more on the evolution of the definition of Indigenous in international human rights legal contexts and fora, see International Law Association, ibid.; see also “The Concept of Indigenous Peoples” background paper prepared by the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Social Policy and Development; PFII/2004/WS.1/3; Last retrieved online June 25, 2015 at

[18] Residential schools were conceived by the government of the day as a primary way to assimilate Aboriginal Peoples into Western European culture, by removing First Nations children from their families and communities, and prohibiting the expression of Aboriginal language, culture, identity and spirituality within these schools. These schools operated from 1880 to 1990 in Ontario (with the last school in Canada closing in Saskatchewan in 1996). The Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement identified 139 residential schools for purposes of providing compensation to former students. For more on the history and impact of residential schools in Canada, see the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (2012) publication, They Came for the Children. Retrieved October 11, 2013 from the TRC website at

[19] According to the (1996) Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Indigenous peoples identified four policies as "among the most unjust policies imposed upon them": the Indian Act, Residential Schools, Forced Relocation and Treatment of Veterans...[V]iewed cumulatively," the Report states, "what emerged was an abuse of power that was systemic and excessive." The Report further recognizes that these unjust policies, "while rooted in history, have effects that continue to this day." Royal Commission Report on Aboriginal Peoples. (1996). Ottawa: Canada Communication Group – Publishing, October 1996. Retrieved online October 31, 2014 from

[20] The opening sentence is attributed to: Scott, Duncan (1914), Indian Affairs, 1867-1912, Chapter IV The Future of the Indian, p.211. Retrieved online at The remaining statements are attributed to Scott as found in the National Archives of Canada, Record Group 10, vol 6810, file 470-2-3, vol 7, pp. 55 (L-3) and 63 (N-3).

[21] Discrimination and marginalization of Christian minorities sometimes also intersected with other forms of racism and prejudice against “less desirable” classes and “races” of European immigrants. See Human rights and creed research and consultation report for more on this history. According to Bhabha, supra note 12, Jehovah’s Witnesses have played a particularly significant role in advancing religious freedom
in Canadian law. For more on Seventh Day Adventists’ historical experience in Ontario see also Bussey, B. W. (2012). Humbug! Seventh-day Adventist conscientious objectors in WWII standing before the mobilization board. Canadian Diversity, 9(3), 71-74.

[22] After Indigenous Peoples, Jewish people formed the largest non-Christian religious minority group in Canada, historically. They were also among the most severely discriminated against religious communities, as well as among the earliest non-Christian religious groups to settle in Ontario (as early as the 1700s) (see Bromberg, supra note 11). The extensive web of Jim Crow-like restrictions overtly barring Jewish access to, and participation in, various mainstream social, political, economic and cultural institutions in Ontario society well into the 20th century is discussed in the OHRC’s Human rghts and creed research and consultation report.

[23] For a detailed discussion see  Abella, I. & Troper, H. (1982).  None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933 to 1948. Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys.

[24] Henry, F. & Tator, C. et al. (2009). The Colour of Democracy: Racism in Canadian Society (4th Ed.). Toronto: Nelson Thomson.

[25] Noble et al. v. Alley, [1951] S.C.R. 64.

[26] For more discussion and examples, see Buckingham, J. E. (2012). The relationship between religions and a secular society. Canadian Diversity, 9(3), 12-15.

[27] See for example Angus McLaren and Arlene Tigar McLaren. (1997). The Bedroom and the State (2nd edition)Oxford University Press. See also Stuart, A. (2010). Freedom of Religion and Gender Equality: Inclusive or Exclusive. Human Rights Law Review 10:3, pp. 429-459.

[28] For example, see also Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 28: Equality of rights between men and women (Article 3), 29 March 2000, CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.10; 8 IHRR 303 (2001) at para. 5; and Council of Europe (CE), Parliamentary Assembly Res. 1464 (2005) on Women and Religion in Europe, 15 September 2005, Doc. 10670 at para. 2 and 7.1; cited in Stuart (ibid., 2010).

[29] Patrick Kelly and Samuel Moore, the first two men in Canada historically recorded as having been criminally convicted of sodomy for what the court records clearly describe as consensual sexual activity, arrived at Kingston Penitentiary in 1842. Both men were sentenced to death, although their sentences were later commuted; Moore was released from prison in 1849 and Kelly in 1853. ("Life in the Provincial Penitentiary at Kingston 1841-1867". The Drummer's Revenge, August 26, 2007. Retrieved online March 13, 2015 at The last person ever to be imprisoned for “homosexual acts” was in 1965. In 1968, Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau introduced an omnibus bill reforming the Criminal Code of Canada, which sought to liberalize Canadian law around social issues such as homosexuality, abortion and divorce. Trudeau's characterization was captured in the statement that there was “no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” In 1969, Canada decriminalized “homosexual acts” between consenting adults with the passage of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968-69.

[30] In his paper “Bugger Off: Exploring legal, ethical, and religious aspects of sodomy,” Dr. Don Cochrane, Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Saskatchewan argues that “[a]ttitudes about sodomy have been deeply influenced by Christian thought and institutions.” He explains:

Connections between sodomy and religion are easily illustrated. For example, even the basic English legal terms used to denote gay sexual experience are derived from the history of Christian religion. “Bugger” – a term much favoured in England  is derived from Medieval Latin “bulgarus” meaning heretic and was arrived at in Western Europe by associating the Balkans with what were deemed heretical sects such as the Bogomils and their alleged sexual practices. If the theological lineage of “bugger” is somewhat deviant, the etymology of “sodomy” is, by contrast, theologically mainstream. In Genesis 19, the city of Sodom was reportedly destroyed by fire sent from heaven because of the unnatural carnal wickedness of its inhabitants. How to interpret this destructive act by a vengeful God has been the subject of much vigorous debate,  but we can be confident in thinking that Biblical and church history have deeply influenced the very language in which many think and talk negatively about homosexuality” (Retrieved March 30, 2015 at An earlier draft of this paper was presented at the 29th annual conference of the Association of Moral Education held in Krakow, Poland, July 16-20, 2003).

[31] Note that "faith" as used here may refer to commitment to any system of belief, not just "religious faith."

[32] In this context, prejudice may be described as deeply held negative attitudes about people based on their creed.

[33] Quebec (Attorney General) v. A, [2013] 1 S.C.R. 61 at para. 326, [“Quebec v. A”]. 

[34] Peel Law Association v. Pieters, 2013 ONCA 396 at paras. 111-114, [Pieters].

[35] For example, see findings from a January/February 2014 national survey by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and the Canadian Institute for Identities and Migration, which revealed that, “in descending from oldest to youngest, there is an increasingly negative view of all religious groups in Canada, the most negative view held by younger Canadians”. Younger Canadians Hold More Negative Views About Religious Groups. (2014, May 28). Canada Newswire. Negative attitudes were highest among all generations towards Muslims (44%), followed by “Religious” people in general (31%), Aboriginals (26%) and Immigrants (24%). For more information see also: Information Handout on Religion, Racism, Intergroup Relations and Integration Results. Retrieved from Canadian Race Relations Foundation website at

[36] For more on such stereotypes see Bradamat, P. (2007). Religion in Canada in 2017: Are we prepared? Canadian Issues, 199-122. See also Seljak, D., Rennick, J., Schmidt, A., Da Silva, K. & Bradamat, P. (2007). Religion and Multiculturalism in Canada: The Challenge of Religious Intolerance and Discrimination. Multiculturalism and Human Rights research reports #2 (Unpublished). Commissioned by the Department of Canadian Heritage.

[37] Gilbert v. 2093132 Ontario, 2011 HRTO 672. However, the HRTO also found that the pub’s decision to cancel the event was made out of legitimate, non-discriminatory business concerns.

[38] See Human rights and creed research and consultation report for more discussion of systemic faithism.

[39] See Human rights and creed research and consultation report for more discussion and examples of what Seljak calls the “Christian Canada” era and of Ontario's historical privileging of Christianity in public and institutional life, in keeping with the religious sensibilities of the overwhelming majority of the population in Ontario historically. Among the most obvious ongoing examples of this in public life today is the public funding of only Catholic schools in Ontario. Scholars have highlighted many other current institutional and symbolic forms of what Seljak (2012) refers to as "residual Christianity" in the present. See also Seljak, D. (2012). Protecting religious freedom in a multicultural Canada. Canadian Diversity, 9(3), 8-11. Retrieved from

[40] See section 9.11.6 for more on Canadian legal discussion of the meaning of "secular" and the Supreme Court's embrace of an “open secular” model. Also, see the OHRC’s Human rights and creed research and consultation report.

[41] Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (City), 2015 SCC 16 at paras. 87-88, [Saguenay]. See also section 10.3 on the display of creed-based symbols.

[42] In many contemporary controversies around religion in the public sphere – for instance, those involving Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists and non-mainstream Christian minorities – such norms have been, or are perceived to be, violated or threatened. Survey and opinion poll research also show that a double standard is sometimes at play where religion in public is tolerable if it is consistent with Canada’s mainline Christian past, but is unacceptable when laid claim to by religious minorities. See Human rights and creed research and consultation report for more discussion of how cultural norms and assumptions about religion find expression in law. See also Beaman, L. (2003). The Myth of Pluralism, Diversity, and Vigor: The Constitutional Privilege of Protestantism in the United States and Canada. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion42, 311-325; Seljak 2012, supra note 14; Seljak et al. 2007, supra note 36; Sullivan, W. (2007).The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (1st ed). Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press; Berger, B. (2012). Inducing Fundamentalisms: Law as a Cultural Force in the Domain of Religion. Canadian Diversity, 9(3), 25-29.

[43] Many different definitions of racism exist. While they may differ in complexity and emphasis, all definitions include ideology that either explicitly or implicitly asserts that one racialized group is inherently superior to others. Racism differs from simple prejudice in that it has also been tied to the social, political, economic and institutional power that the dominant group in society holds. See the OHRC's Policy and guidelines on racism and racial discrimination for a general discussion of the key elements for understanding racism.

[44] The Report of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System defined racialization “as the process by which societies construct races as real, different and unequal in ways that matter to economic, political and social life” (1995. Toronto: Queen's Printer for Ontario, at pp.40-41; Co-Chaired by: D. Cole & M. Gittens). Racialization extends to people in general, and also to specific traits and attributes that are connected in some way to racialized people and are deemed to be “abnormal” and of less worth. People may have prejudices related to various racialized characteristics. In addition to physical features, other characteristics can be racialized, including: beliefs and practices; accent or manner of speech; name; clothing and grooming; diet; leisure preferences; places of origin; citizenship.

[45] Salyer, L. 2010, p.179. Review of "What blood won't tell." Journal of Legal Education, 60 (1): 179-82.

[46] For more on what scholars have called the “racialization of religion”, see Meer, N. (2013).  Racialization and Religion: Race, Culture and Difference in the Study of Antisemitism and Islamophobia. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 36(3):385-98; Modood, T. (2005) Multicultural Politics: Racism, Ethnicity and Muslims in Britain. University of Minnesota Press; Bayoumi, M. (2006). Racing Religion. The New Centennial Review, 6(2):267-93; Selod, S. and Embrick, D. G. (2013). Racialization and Muslims: Situating the Muslim Experience in Race Scholarship.  Sociology Compass, 7(8):644-55.

Religion and race may be linked in several ways, both as cause and effect of each other. For example, a Canadian Press news story reported how a Danish psychologist attributed a range of social problems in the Islamic world to intermarriage among first cousins permitted under religious law, which he claimed "may have done catastrophic damage to their gene pool.” (As reported in an Oct 27, 2010 Hamilton Spectator news article, "Psychologist critical of Muslim ‘inbreeding’ informed expert’s opinion on Khadr"; Retrieved January 20, 2015 from This linking of religion, social problems and genetics is consistent with traditional "race thinking" in which culture (including religion) and character are connected with biology, i.e. as things borne in the blood.

[47] According to Galonnier (2015, p.5), the racialization of Islam refers to the process of assigning a racial meaning to the fact of being Muslim, associating it with a number of phenotypical and cultural characteristics that are deemed unchanging and hereditary. This phenomenon is not new. The formal origins of Islam’s racialization can be traced back to 15th and 16th century Spain, where the category of race emerged via a troubled connection to religion (Soyer 2013, Harvey 2005, Frederickson 2002). According to Rana (2011, p. 33-39), this is the time when "Muslim groups began to be defined via racial mixture and notions of blackness."

Sources:  Galonnier, J. (2015). When "White Devils" Join the Deen: White American Converts to Islam and the Experience of Non-Normative Whiteness. OSC Notes & Documents n° 2015-01, February; Soyer, F. (2013). Faith, Culture and Fear: Comparing Islamophobia in Early Modern Spain and Twenty-First Century Europe. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 36(3):399-416; Harvey, L. P. 2005. Muslims in Spain 1500-1614, Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Frederickson, G. M. (2002). Racism: A Short History, Princeton: Princeton University Press.  Rana, J. (2007). The Story of Islamophobia. Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society, 9(2):148-61.

[48] Observing this trend, American Professor of Law Neil Gotanda writes:

After 9/11, hate-crime attacks against Arabs, Muslims, South Asians, and others who 'looked like' Muslim terrorists were widely reported and discussed. In popular commentary and in scholarly journals, there was widespread discussion on how racial violence was aimed at a newly emerging racial category (Saito 2001; Volpp 2002; Ahmad 2004). The San Francisco Chronicle reported that 'a new racial stereotype is emerging in America. Brown-skinned men with beards and women with head scarves are seen as 'Muslims' - regardless of their actual faith or nationality' (Kuruvila 2006). The exact characterizations varied, yet most included Islam or Muslim as a part of the category (2011, p185-186. The Racialization of Islam in American Law. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 637, Race, Religion, and Late Democracy. September 2011, pp. 184-195.

Cited sources: Saito, N. T. (2001). Symbolism under siege: Japanese American redress and the “racing” of Arab Americans as “terrorists”. Asian Law Journal 8:1-26; Volpp, L. (2002). The citizen and the terrorist. UCLA Law Review 49: 1575-99; Ahmad, M. I. (2004). A rage shared bylaw: Post-September 11 racial violence as crimes of passion. California Law review 92 (5): 1259-95; Kuruvila, M.C. (2006). 9/11: Five years later. Typecasting Muslims as a Race. San Francisco Chronicle. September 3. Retrieved April 3, 2015 from

[49] There is robust scholarly literature exploring why and how differences of religion, culture and ethnicity can sometimes be “racialized,” including in ways that lead to more hardened positions and justifications for discriminating against ethnic and religious minorities. This has variously been referred to as the “new racism” or “neo-racism” (racism without race), which is different from historically dominant forms of racism based on biology and skin colour. Noting the ways religion is often implicated in “neo-racism,” social and political theorist Etienne Balibar (2007, p.85) explains:

What we see here is that biological or genetic naturalism is not the only means of naturalizing human behaviour and social affinities…[C]ulture can also function like a nature, and it can in particular function as a way of locking individuals and groups a priori into a genealogy, into a determination that is immutable and intangible in origin.

For more on the distinctive qualities of contemporary “neo racism,” see Barker (1981) on “new racism,” Miles (2003) on “racialization,” Modood (1997) on “cultural racism” and Taguieff (2001) on “differentialist racism.” Cited sources:  Balibar, E. (2007). Is there “neo-racism”?. In Gupta, T. D., James, C.E., Maaka, R. C. A., Galabuzi, G.E. & Anderson, C. (Eds.), Race and Racialization: Essential Readings (pp. 83-88). Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press Inc.; Barker, M. (1981). The New Racism. London: Junction Books; Miles, R. (2003). Racism (2nd Ed.). New York: Routledge. Modood, T. et al. (1997). Ethnic Minorities in Britain. London: Policy Studies Institute; Taguieff, P.-A. (2001). The Force of Prejudice. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

[50] Coined in the 1870s, the term “anti-Semitism” was created by people who were explicitly promoting race-based hatred of Jews. Historians have argued that this term reflects a transition from religion (or “anti-Judaism”) to race as a basis for discrimination, hatred and violence against Jews. For more on the historical evolution from anti-Judaism or “Judenhass” (hatred of Jews) to the Anti-Semitic racism of the modern era, as first coined (“Antisemitismus”) by its German intellectual exponent, Wilhelm Marr in 1879, see the OHRC’s Human rights and creed research and consultation report. See also Bunzl, M. (2007). Anti-semitism and Islamophobia. In Bunzel, M. (Ed.). Anti-semitism and Islamophobia: Hatreds Old and New in Europe (pp. 1-46). Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

[51] For instance, concerns have been raised about the rise of a “new anti-Semitism” that is framed more on anti-Zionism, politics and religion than on race. See Ben-Moshe (2007). The New Anti-Semitism. In Gopalkrishnan, N. and Babacan, H. (Eds.). Racisms in the New World Order. Realities of Cultures, Colours and Identity (pp. 107-123). UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. While acknowledging how anti-Zionism can take antisemitic forms, the (2004) Report of the European Union’s Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia suggests that only if Jews are targeted “as Jews” is it legitimate to speak of “antisemitism.” Anti-Zionist viewpoints, from this perspective, are only antisemitic if “Israel is seen as being a representative of ‘the Jew,’” as opposed to “hostility towards Israel as ‘Israel,’ i.e. as a country that is criticized for its concrete policies.” European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. (2004). Manifestations of antisemitism in the EU 2002-2003; cited in Bunzl, 2007, ibid.

[52] The OHRC's use of “antisemitism” instead of “anti-Semitism” is for reasons consistent with the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia's use of the term, as stated in its 2002-2003 report:

The notation “antisemitism” will be given preference to the notation “anti-Semitism.” This allows for the fact that there has been a change from a racist to a culturalist antisemitism, and in this context helps to avoid the problem of reifying (and thus affirming) the existence of races in general and a “Semitic race” in particular (ibid. Retrieved May 10, 2014 from, p.11).

The term “antisemitism” is also preferred over anti-Semitism because in undermining the notion of a “Semitic race,” it also undermines claims by persons belonging to other non-Jewish cultural or national groups who claim to belong to a “Semitic” racial grouping and to also experience anti-Semitism. This, critics argue, undermines and weakens the term’s specific history, meaning and association with prejudicial attitudes and discrimination directed specifically against Jewish people. Also see Mock, K. and Shipman, L. It’s time to end word games and combat racism. Originally published in 1992 in the Canadian Jewish News; adopted by the Commission on Antisemitism at the World Conference on Racism, Durban, South Africa, 2001, and adapted for a presentation to Tel Aviv University’s Antisemitism Documentation Project, 2002.

[53] Canadian Race Relations Foundation. (2013). Glossary of terms: Antisemitism. Retrieved September 23, 2014 from

[54] Ibid.

[55] Partly in recognition of this, in 2009, the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism was established by all four major federal political parties to investigate and combat antisemitism, including new antisemitism.

[56] Scholars have observed how Islamophobia and other contemporary forms of discrimination and prejudice based on religion and creed in Ontario have been significantly shaped by forces of globalization, including the global flow of media, communications and people, and awareness (and sometimes transplantation) of conflicts elsewhere in the world. The events of “9/11” and the “War on Terror” have had a major impact on shaping local prejudice and discrimination, at times casting a dark shadow and acrimonious tone over public debates about multiculturalism and religious accommodation in the public sphere. See the OHRC’s Human rights and creed research and consultation report; see also Esposito, J. and Kalim, I. (Eds.). (2011). Islamophobia: The Challenge of Pluralism in the 21st Century. New York: Oxford University Press.

[57] While the term Islamophobia literally signifies “fear” of “Islam”, it is generally held to mean more than this, to include: both individual as well as institutional and systemic forms of intolerance and discrimination; both anti-Islamic (the religion) and anti-Muslim (group of people) sentiments and behaviour.

[58] See Razack, S. (2008). Casting Out: Race and the Eviction of Muslims From Western Law and Politics. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

[59] See Gottschalk, P and Greenberg, G. (2007). Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Also see Poynting, S., and Perry, B. (2007). Climates of Hate: Media and State Inspired Victimisation of Muslims in Canada and Australia since 9/11. Current Issues in Criminal Justice 19(2); Bakht, N. (2008). Belonging and Banishment: Being Muslim in Canada. TSAR Publications.

[60] The OHRC's review of 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2014-15 creed human rights complaints filed at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found that Muslims accounted for the highest number of HRTO applications citing creed as a ground of discrimination in all three years. While HRTO applications are insufficient on their own to prove actual discrimination patterns (as they indicate only perceived discrimination, as filed through human rights complaints), this finding is consistent with social science literature and survey research on the topic. See the OHRC's Human rights and creed research and consultation report for further analysis of HRTO human rights complaints based on creed.

[61] Social science and survey research indicates a growing pattern of distrust, fear and animosity towards Muslims in Ontario and Canada since the events of 9/11; a trend, scholars note, making Islamophobia increasingly common and socially acceptable (see Human rights and creed research and consultation report). For example, in a comprehensive 2006-2007 Environics Canada survey (cited in Adams, 2009, p.23), 28% of the general Canadian population sampled believed that “most” or “many” Canadians are hostile towards Muslims. Adams, Michael. (2009). Muslims in Canada: Findings from the 2007 Environics Survey. Horizons, 10(2), pp. 19-26. Government of Canada, Policy Research Initiative. Retrieved from A diverse range of later opinion polls and surveys show growing levels of animosity towards Muslims, who are generally perceived to be the least trusted and the most disliked of all religious, ethnic or racial groups among the general Canadian population. For example, the results from the last of three comprehensive national surveys about religion, religious freedom and values by Angus Reid Global show that more than half of Canadians (54%) view Islam unfavourably, up from 46% in 2009 ("Canadians view non-Christian religions with uncertainty, dislike", Angus Reid Global, October 2, 2013, retrieved January 11, 2015 from Another September 10, 2010 survey by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and the Association for Canadian Studies found that 30.9% of Canadians “strongly disagree” that “Muslims share our values”. Muslims and non-Muslims in Canada and the United States: Nine Years after 9-11. Retrieved January 18, 2015 at For more on the growing acceptability of Islamophobia, see Allen, C. (2010). Islamophobia. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company. See also Lean, N. (2012). The Islamophobia Industry. Pluto Press.

[62] See CBC News, Nov 27, 2013. Arrests in post 9/11 'hate' attack on Hamilton Hindu temple: New evidence has led to three arrests for temple arson. Retrieved online January 21, 2015 at

[63] Randhawa v. Tequila Bar and Grill Ltd., 2008 AHRC 3 at para. 66.

[64] Declaration on Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance against Migrants and Trafficked Persons. Asia-Pacific NGO Meeting for the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Teheran, Iran. 18 February 2001; as cited in International Migration, Racism, Discrimination and XenophobiaA publication prepared by: International Labour Office (ILO), International Organization for Migration (IOM), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). (2001). Retrieved online July 3, 2014 at

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